Exercise requires a tempo, or a certain pace to perform each rep. Rep tempo (or rep speed) is an important factor for lifting. The tempo will dictate whether you gain size, strength, or power. Without a tempo, you are simply throwing weights up and down. Unfortunately, a lot of people are just throwing weights up and down because they don’t understand rep tempo. Let’s dive into rep tempo and why it’s important for all lifters.
What is it?
Rep tempo is defined by the 3 to 4 phases of a lift.
- Eccentric – This phase involves the lowering of the weight, and fighting gravity.
- Bottom position – This is the transition phase where you shift from the eccentric phase to the concentric phase.
- Concentric – This is the lifting portion of the lift.
- Top position – This is the transition phase where you shift from the concentric phase to the eccentric phase.
Each phase will have a certain tempo that requires a specified length of time to achieve the lift. The phases will be defined by a number system. It may look like 3-1-3-0, 4-0-X-1, or some variation. As you can see there are 4 numbers, each corresponds with a phase of the lift. The numbers are explained below:
- 1 or more – Any number 1 or more means the number of seconds required to complete that phase. So, 3 seconds means you need to take 3 seconds to complete that phase.
- 0 – A zero means there should be no pause or break during that phase.
- X – An X means to complete that phase as quickly as possible, while still maintaining form. Programs should NOT interchange 0 and X, as it’s going to take more than 0 seconds to complete a phase.
Why is it important?
I am glad you asked! Rep tempo helps maintain control over each lift. Plus studies show that muscles not only require a certain load (defined as intensity or percent of your 1 rep max), but also a TUL. What’s a TUL? TUL stands for Time Under Load (sometimes listed as TUT, which is Time Under Tension). Utilizing the proper TUL can dictate whether you are focusing on size, strength, or endurance. A misunderstanding or not using this concept can lead to a huge waste of time. If you are taking only 10 seconds to complete a lift, you will be training for strength. This is fine, unless your true goal is size. A chart is provided below to help clarify TUL and each category (strength, size, endurance).
Time Under Load Chart (based on total time, in seconds, per set)
- Strength & Power: 4 – 30 Seconds
- Hypertrophy: 30 – 70 Seconds
- Endurance: 70 – 120 Seconds
How can it help me?
Training within these timeframes offers a better understanding of training towards your goals. You will still want to incorporate the proper intensity (i.e. percentage of your 1RM) along with these timeframes. If you aren’t seeing your desired results, you may not be training for the proper set duration (TUL). This is why it is important to follow the chart based on your desired goal.
As you can tell rep tempo is an important factor when aiming to achieve results. It is not the only key, but it is still an important factor in your training regimen. The time ranges are quite a wide gap from the bottom to top number, so it does offer quite a bit of flexibility. Just remember that the eccentric phase is crucial, so do not cheat that number. There are plenty of different variations for rep tempo, so find what works best for you.